Last weekend, the audience at a mixed martial arts gala in the Swedish city of Umeå were in for a surprise. A fighter entered the ring accompanied by the famous Islamic State nashid Salil al-Sawarim. An Arabic-speaking member of the audience alerted the organizers, who proceeded to report the incident to the police. The organizer said they had reviewed the clip in advance without realizing that it was a jihadi battle hymn.
When I first saw this report, I thought it was a funny instance of inadvertent nashid use. According to press reports, the fighter was a Latvia-based man who had expressed “shock” at learning where the song came from. He said a friend had sent it to him. Latvia is not known for its many IS sympathisers, so it must have been an accident. Or so I thought.
On closer inspection, it may not be that simple. According to the list of results, there was only one Latvian competitor, a certain Edgars Skrivers. In this video from the weigh-in on Friday, we can see
(at about 2′25′’) Skrivers posing for the camera with his index finger raised while his opponent raises his fist.
On the way off the podium, Skrivers addresses the camera, raises his index finger again and says “al-hamdu lillah, Allahu akbar” before going into the wardrobe.
I cannot know for sure, of course, but it it possible that Skrivers knew exactly what he was doing when he played Salil al-Sawarim upon entering the ring.
This, by the way, is not the first time something like this happens. At another MMA event in Poland in May this year, a fighter named Aziz Karaouglu did exactly what Skrivers did, though with a different nashid. He was fined £150,000 and excluded from his club. After the event, Karaouglu, who is of Turkish origin, issued a statement saying it had been a mistake.
For context, it is worth noting that martial arts is quite popular with radical Islamists. There are several examples of European Islamist militants who trained martial arts, and the French sports educator Médéric Chapitaux has written an entire book about the problem of radicalization in French gyms. The incident in Umeå may therefore not be as innocent as it seems.